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December 5, 2022 5:18 pm
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Blinken: US Engagement with New Israeli Government Based on Policies, Not ‘Personalities’

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avatar by Andrew Bernard

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the briefing room of the State Department in Washington, U.S. January 7, 2022. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

Speaking at the J Street National Conference on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that US engagement with the incoming Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu would be based on shared values and policies, not the ‘personalities’ of Israel’s new ministers.

“We will gauge the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities,” Blinken said. “Preserving a horizon of hope also requires that we work relentlessly to prevent any parties from taking actions that could raise tensions or further raise tensions and push the two-state solution even further out of reach.”

The comment comes as controversial far-right MKs Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, the leaders of the Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionist parties that ran as a bloc in Israel’s November elections, recently garnered the third most seats in the Knesset. While the two were not named in Blinken’s remarks, his comments are the most direct reference yet from the Biden administration about the formation of Israel’s new government. Under the coalition deal with incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir will be Israel’s national security minister, a new position that will include responsibility for policing in the West Bank, while Smotrich will be given the finance ministry.

J Street, which bills itself as “the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy Americans”, is hosting three days of speeches by American and international political figures.

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On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told conference attendees by pre-recorded video that the US needs to play a more direct role the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and that the US needs to resume direct funding to the Palestinian Authority.

Most US funding to the PA was cut off by the Taylor Force Act, which halts US aid to the PA so long as it continues its so-called ‘pay to slay’ program of providing stipends to the families of terrorists.

Blinken in his remarks highlighted that the US has recently upgraded its relations with the PA with the appointment of Hady Amr as special representative for Palestinian affairs, but also criticized the PA for its “unilateral actions” at the United Nations.

“And just as we believe Israel has a responsibility to take steps to advance the prospects for enduring peace, the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate that it has the will and it has the capacity to be a true partner in a process that can lead to two states,” Blinken said. “We’ve made clear our view that unilateral actions at the United Nations will do nothing to address the urgent needs of the Palestinian people or bring the two sides any closer to peace.”

Palestine is currently an observer member of the UN, but has said it intends to seek full membership, a step that the US has long opposed

Blinken also noted the breakdown in US negotiations with Iran over attempts to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the Iran nuclear deal. “Together we engaged in a meaningful diplomatic process to see if we could reach agreement for a mutual return to the JCPOA, but Iran has repeatedly demonstrated that it is unwilling or unable to commit to the steps that it needs to take,” Blinken said. “We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But should the Iranian regime reject that path, its leaders should make no mistake that all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.”

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